Thursday, 18 June 2015

Dinosaurs from the Pulps!

One of the joys of getting into Robert E. Howard fandom is the vast world it opens up before you. Before I got into it, I relied mostly on luck and happenstance to find stories and art that intrigued me, and living in Scotland as I do the availability of those classic American tales could sometimes be hard to come by.

But after years of infiltrating the echelons of Howardom, needling information and hints from the experts and polymaths in funny hats, it's amazing the things you find. On my last Scottish Invasion of Cross Plains, I learned that one of these behatted genii was leaping into the vast sea of pulps in search of one of his other great interests: zombies! And sure enough, he even produced an anthology of twenty classic tales of the undead ripped from the musty yellowing pages of those lurid tomes.

The magic of pulps is that there are just so many different stories and trends out there, you could easily fill a themed anthology with them. Amazons from the Pulps! could feature the likes of "Black Amazon of Mars," "The Golden Amazons of Venus," "Queen of the Panther World," "Slaves of the Jackal Priestess," "Sword of Gimshai," "Black God's Kiss," and other adventures of warrior women. "The Metal Monster," "The War of the Giants," "The Metal Giants," "Between Dimensions," "The Reign of the Robots," "The Ideal," "A Dictator for All Time," and countless more tales of Metal Men could shamble through Robots from the Pulps! Crom knows we have plenty for Stephen Jones' The Mammoth Book Of... series, as he always manages to find at least a few from the Age of Pulps.

And then there were dinosaurs...

Monday, 15 June 2015

Unanswered Questions: Jurassic World

 Me for 2 hours.

I've read and watched a number of reviews for Jurassic World, and because I'm the sort of guy who's Just Here For The Dinosaurs, there are naturally a lot of character, plot, and thematic elements that I didn't cover in my review. Some of them occurred to me, some of them didn't. I could chalk these little anomalies to the film's flaws - after all, as I said in the review, the film is not without them. It's an imperfect blockbuster.

But that's no fun.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

8-Year-Old Reviews: Jurassic World

We’re going to grow old but never grow up.
We’re going to stay 18 years old and we’re going to love dinosaurs forever.
 - Ray Harryhausen & Ray Bradbury made a pact together. They never broke it as long as they lived.

A review 22 years in the making.

Friday, 12 June 2015

The Company of Death

Last year at Howard Days, we were talking about the deaths of Miguel Martins and Ray Harryhausen. I'm pretty sure they'll be talking about Christopher Lee, Ron Moody, maybe even Dusty Rhodes. Two of our wee Scottish contingent in Arizona died, too. As Howard Days is scheduled around the anniversary of Howard's death, there is always that tinge of gloominess and melancholy. Death is ever present in Howard's company.

So today I decided to defy the company of Death. I read Howard stories and poems that weren't about mortality or war or murder. I played the new Lego Jurassic World game, having seen the film (a review is forthcoming), which avoided the more gruesome scenes in the movie with a loveable nod and a wink. I went around to a gaming night with a few good friends.

This should take my mind off Robert E. Howard!

We played HeroQuest. It was great fun, even if I could barely remember the rules, and I kept fudging the order of play - last time I played the game must've been the turn of the century. Nonetheless, we made a great wee story of a troupe of adventurers alternately mucking things up profoundly and heroically saving the day: the barbarian who went off on his own away from the group to kill goblins; the wizard who stumbled into a horde of Chaos warriors and barely escaped with his skin; the dwarf who cut a bloody swathe through a host of monsters; the elf who somehow managed to slay the most powerful monster in the dungeon with a single stroke.

Since the adventurers had ridiculous good fortune, we decided to make the monster a "load bearing boss," and suggested to have five turns before the dungeon caves in, trapping the entombing the heroes with the treasure they sought. The wizard used his air magicks to blow through the corridors and escape; the dwarf heroically stood by the entrance to ensure no monsters came, not leaving until every hero escaped; the barbarian had the awful luck of constantly running into frantic goblins barring his way. But the elf had the worst luck; brought low by a vengeful Chaos warrior. I guess you never can escape the company of death, even in board games.

I had a great night, knowing that my pals in Cross Plains were having a good time too. Some of them were even playing the new Conan RPG, which probably prompted my decision to go with HeroQuest. I'm glad to have them: we talked a bit of Howard at the table, too, as well as the usual current affairs, politics, films, books, and whatnot. Much like I would at Howard Days.

Hope everyone's having a great time in Cross Plains! Let us all drink to Howard's shade across the continents, united in the Company of Death.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Requiescat in Pace Christopher Lee, Master of the Fantastique

I don't want to sound gloomy, but, at some point of your lives, every one of you will notice that you have in your life one person, one friend whom you love and care for very much. That person is so close to you that you are able to share some things only with him. For example, you can call that friend, and from the very first maniacal laugh or some other joke you will know who is at the other end of that line. We used to do that with him so often. And then when that person is gone, there will be nothing like that in your life ever again.
 - Christopher Lee on the death of his friend Peter Cushing

I never met Mr Lee, but I think all of us who were touched by his performances will feel a little share of that same sadness. I can't really think of much to say about him that I suspect will be said by many over the coming days. Christopher Lee was an actor who enriched every production he graced with his presence. He never phoned it in. He never treated his roles with anything but commitment, dignity and respect, whether it was a Hollywood blockbuster, an intimate character drama, a lurid Hammer horror, or a screwball comedy. Like his friend and co-stars Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, he made every film he starred in better just by being there - because you knew while watching them that they cared about what they were doing. It was never a paycheck, never something to do for their CV, never anything other than the craft.

Dracula. Frankenstein's monster. Kharis. Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde. Lord Summerisle. Scaramanga. Nicholas, Duc de Richleau. Henry Baskerville. Jinnah. Captain Robeles. Mycroft Holmes. Blind Pewe. Rasputin. Marquis St Evrémonde. Saruman. Lucifer. Fu Manchu. Dr Catheter. It's difficult to think of a film he starred in where he wasn't one of the best parts.

Christopher Lee was an actor who was very good at what he did, and loved what he did very much. For a man who is immortalised largely by his monstrous villains and foreboding menace, the world is a little darker in his passing.

Part of me wants to joke - only half-joke - that he isn't really dead: either that he has finally self-actualised and become undead, or that rumours of his death were greatly exaggerated - the man served in the secret service, after all. But with over two hundred and eighty films to his name, Christopher Lee will be with us all in some way as long as the medium exists. Whether his shade's in the next world or not, the shadow he cast on the silver screen will last forever.